1901, and an end to a means
Major League Baseball at the turn of the twentieth century meant one thing, National League baseball. Founded in 1876, the National League had remained a constant through the early turbulent years of professional baseball. Several leagues tried to compete with the NL, and they all failed.
The National Association began play in 1871, but has not been officially recognized as a Major League. However, a few of the National Association teams were charter members of the National League in 1876. Some of the cities that were hosts of 'major league' caliber teams include Hartford, Elizabeth, Rockford, Troy , Keokuk and Fort Wayne.
The National League monopolized Major League Baseball from 1876 through 1881, and then the American Association debuted in 1882. There were other leagues scattered throughout the country, but none had the prestige or the financial strength to consistently put forth the type of play, and player, that would exemplify the epitome of what professional baseball should be.
At least in their minds.
The challenge of the American Association to the established National League was great. And the league was successful, lasting from 1882 through 1891. And while it was not a harmonious relationship, the two leagues did agree to have a championship series at the conclusion of their season, the forerunner to the modern World Series.
The American Association placed teams in the 'lesser' cities that were passed over by the National League, and tried to appeal to a more 'blue collar' crowd than the established National League. When the American Association finally disbanded, seven of its teams were absorbed into the National League.
There was also the Union Association in 1884, which struggled to finish the season intact. This was the third major league that played that year, not very successfully. Four of its teams folded and were replaced by the end of the season. However, the champions of this one season league, the St. Louis Maroons, were adopted into the National League for the 1885 season.
The Players League in 1890 was the last attempt at a second major league this century. It also lasted a year. The brainchild of star John Montgomery Ward as a protest to help alleviate the lopsided player-management situation in the National League. It was, by several reports, underfunded and under appreciated, and didn't last very long.
In 1901, Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson led a group of minor league owners from the Western League, and brought them into direct competition with the established National League. Calling their newly formed league the American League, and placed teams in Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Chicago.
(In 1902 the Milwaukee team would move to St. Louis and become the Browns, who would then move to Baltimore to become the Orioles; In 1903 the Baltimore team would move to New York and become the Highlanders, later the Yankees)
At this time, the National League teams had, for all intents and purposes, a salary cap for each player. This made it easier to lure the underpaid players from the NL to the upstart AL, and player raiding became all the rage in the very early years of the two leagues. Over 100 players jumped leagues to take advantage of the higher pay.
For the first two seasons of its existence, the AL out drew the NL in attendance, and the two leagues agreed in principle to work together, signing a National Agreement bringing 'peace' and confirming the two 'major leagues' as we know them today.
There were other attempts at a third major league, the first being the Federal League, who played for two seasons, 1914 and 1915, they were the first to challenge baseball's 'reserve clause' which I have discussed in earlier articles, and will discuss in later articles as well.
The Federal league was considered to be an 'outlaw league' since it played its games outside of the aforementioned National Agreement. Many sportswriters considered the play in the Federal to be on par, if not beyond par with the two current leagues.
During their off-season between 1914 and 1915, the Federal League filed and anti-trust lawsuit against the American ans National Leagues. The suit was brought before Federal Judge Kennesaw Landis (future baseball commissioner) who let the case languish as he urged the three parties to negotiate a resolution. It didn't work, and essentially, the Federal league ran out of the financial resources to continue the battle.
The other attempt at a third league came in response to western expansion. After the Dodgers and Giants left New York for California, several influential businessmen decided to pool their resources to begin the Continental League. The Continental, who recruited the legendary Branch Rickey to help with its formation, planned to place teams in New York, Toronto, Denver, Houston and Minneapolis-St. Paul initially. Then were going to add teams in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Buffalo.
This league never did come to fruition, but it did lead to the expansion in 1961 and 1962. It is interesting to note that of the ten cities selected by the Continental League, only Buffalo has not been selected to receive a Major League team.
But back to the American League. Ban Johnson was the President of the league from its inception until he was removed from office in 1927, after being placed on a sabbatical due to declining health. In reality, he suffered a breakdown, and was no longer able to recognize friends and family members.
He was deeply troubled by the events of the 1919 World Series, (again mentioned in an earlier article) and tried to be a moral compass for the league. He was made aware of a situation where some of the games greatest players conspired to throw a game at the end of the 1919 season. The information came to light in 1926, when two letters were presented by pitcher Dutch Leonard that he maintained showed proof of wagering of a game between the Tigers and the Indians.
Allegedly, the story was put forth, that the Indians had already clinched their second place finish, and were willing to lose a game so that the Tigers might clinch third place instead of the Yankees. Those finishing in the top three positions received bonus monies from the league. (The third place bonus was approximately $400 for each man)
Leonard said that he and Ty Cobb met under the stands with Tris Speaker and Joe Wood of the Indians to guarantee that the Indians would win. During this meeting, Leonard alleges, monies were then given to a runner to place a bet on the game,since the four knew the outcome.
The foursome had pooled about $5,000 to bet on the Tigers, but the runner, a clubhouse man couldn't get such a large bet covered in time, and was only able to get $600 bet on the game. (The Tigers won, by the way)
Leonard kept these correspondences to himself for a few years, until he became convinced that Cobb and Speaker (both managers by this time) had conspired to keep him out of the game, so he made these letters available to Ban Johnson.
Johnson, not wanting to give Commissioner Landis any more headlines gave Cobb and Speaker an ultimatum...quit baseball right now or these letters go public.
Both men retired from baseball within the week, and never took the field in an official capacity again.
But, now to the field of play...
Since the World Series as we know it today didn't begin until 1903, there was no post season championship. But the top 5 teams (according to the power rankings) were:
- Pittsburgh Pirates 1st NL
- Chicago White Sox 1st AL
- Brooklyn Superbas 3rd NL
- Boston Americans 2nd AL
- Philadelphia Phillies 2nd NL
I use an overall number as my initial starting point. Each players statistics are measured on a scale to determine an actual numeric value. I do the same for each player, each team and each league overall. In 1901, the American League offense was far better than the pitching, which stands to reason. As Casey Stengel would say, “Good pitching stops good hitting, and vice versa.”
I mention this because the discrepancy is a pretty sizable one, the hitters fared 23% better than the pitchers, and 13.8% better than their National League counterparts. This was buoyed by the first modern baseball Triple Crown winner, Nap Lajoie of the Cleveland Blues. His .426 batting average still has yet to be beaten, and his overall performance number was 25% better than the second best offensive player in the league, Jimmy Williams of the Baltimore Orioles.
Lajoie averaged 1.95 Runs Produced per game, while the league itself averaged just under 6 runs scored per game. He was wholly responsible 32% of Philadelphia's runs scored during the season. His 1901 season may in fact be the greatest offensive season ever.
So we'll look at the American League offense first. I will include the overall raw number for comparison)
Now compared to their team's performances, with their percentage above their team average:
And then averaging their overall performance, and their performances against both their teams, and the rest of the league, it brings us this overall audited ranking:
Over in the National League, the competition was a little closer,but there was a clear cut winner as well. The overall raw numbers:
|Jesse Burkett||S. Louis||10||75||.376||27||2.4110|
|Patsy Donovan||St. Louis||1||73||.303||28||2.1880|
Okay, now we'll look at the comparison against their team's performances:
|Wee Willie Keeler||Brooklyn||2||43||.339||23||1.7909|
And then their overall performances:
|Wee Willie Keeler||1.5677|
Now, onto the pitching performances. While compiling these, I discovered an interesting anomoly, which I'll uncover at the end. Cy Young won the pitching triple crown, leading in Wins, ERA and strikeouts. Young also was the most dominant pitcher in the league, statistically speaking, he was 20.6% higher than his nearest competition. In winning 33 games, he won 41.7% of the Boston Americans games that year.
The American league raw numbers first, featuring ERA and total Runs Allowed average. The runs allowed is crucial here, since the fielding of this era was not very good, between field conditions and the essential lack of fielders gloves:
Player Team W-L ERA RA Cy Young Boston 33-10 1.62 2.71 Clark Griffth White Sox 24-7 2.67 3.85 Jimmy Callahan White Sox 15-8 2.42 3.93 Roscoe Miller Detroit 23-13 2.95 4.55 George Winter Boston 16-12 2.80 4.74 Snake Wiltse Athletics 13-5 3.58 4.93 Joe Yeager Detroit 12-11 2.61 4.73 Earl Moore Cleveland 16-14 2.90 4.62 Eddie Plank Athletics 17-13 3.31 4.59 Joe McGinnity Baltimore 26-20 3.56 5.16
And against their teams average:
Casey Patten Washington 18-10 3.93 5.77 Eddie Plank
Bill Reidy Milwaukee 16-20 4.21 5.47 Joe Yeager
And then the overall rankings are as follows:
Now for the raw numbers in the National League:
Deacon Phillipe Pittsburgh 22-12 2.22 3.50 Al Orth Philadelphia 20-12 2.27 3.23 Jesse Tannehill Pittsburgh 18-10 2.17 3.35 Jack Chesboro Pittsburgh 21-10 2.38 3.25 Sam Leever Pittsburgh 14-5 2.86 4.19 Red Donahue Philadelphia 20-13 2.59 3.38 Vic Willis Boston 20-17 2.36 3.27 Christy Mathewson Giants 20-17 2.41 3.51 Bill Donovan Brooklyn 25-15 2.77 3.87 Bill Duggleby Philadelphia 20-12 2.88 3.79
And then against their teams:
Noodles Hahn Cincinnati 22-19 2.71 3.81 Christy Mathewson
Rube Waddell Chicago 14-14 2.81 4.54 Dummy Taylor Giants 18-27 3.18 4.92 Vic Willis
Jack Harper St. Louis 23-13 3.62 4.61 Red Donahue
And then the overall ranking:
Historical note here, Frank George “Noodles” Hahn was a twenty-two year old pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He won 22 games for a team that won 52 games. He led the league in strikeouts for the third consecutive season. He struck out 16 batters in a game, becoming the first to do that in the modern era.
He was the youngest player to win 100 games in his career (Bob Feller would be younger when he reached that milestone, and Dwight Gooden would be five months older). But wise beyond his years, Hahn realized that he would not play baseball forever, and began looking for a vocation beyond his playing days.
The Nashville native thought about medicine and the legal profession, but decided to enroll in classes at Cincinnati Veterinary College. Hahn's career lasted only a handful of years beyond the 1901 season, a victim of a dead arm, but Doctor Hahn did enjoy a lengthy career as a veterinary inspector in Cincinnati.
The anomoly that I found involves the runs allowed. The raw numbers are the basis for all the other comparisons, but the raw number uses a formula that includes earned runs, NOT total runs allowed. If I replace the earned runs, the top performers in the AL maintain pretty consistent, and are ranked as follows:
Roy Patterson, White Sox
And the National League, the variance is much greater:
If nothing else, this shows the consistency of the quality of National League play, and the inconsistency of the upstart American League play. I say this because of the two performances in the AL that were head and shoulders above the rest of the league. This type of inconsistency would level itself out over the next two or three seasons.
Or perhaps these players were just in the right place at the right time
In the AL, the player is obviously Napoleon Lajoie
And the pitcher is Cy Young.
In the NL, the player is Jimmy Sheckard
And the pitcher is Noodle Hahn
I hope you enjoyed reading this article...